Obertauern, a ski resort with a pop culture legacy

Beatles monument on the slopes of Obertauern

Mark Nicholls visits Austria’s snowiest ski resort and stumbles across a chapter of pop history.

Footage of The Beatles larking about in the snow for the film Help! invokes a wave of nostalgic sentiment for the Fab Four. John, Paul, George and Ringo were clearly having fun curling, tobogganing and speeding down the slopes on snow bikes, though they did draft in body doubles for the ski scenes. They also famously dragged a grand piano onto the piste.

Today, the Austrian resort of Obertauern fondly recollects those days from March 1965 when The Beatles showed up to make a movie. There is memorabilia and statues, and many restaurant walls are still adorned with signed photographs from that time.

Now, six decades on, The Beatles legacy remains a strong attraction in Obertauern, along with the lure of the snow for those who love to ski or simply relax in the mountains.

Snow depth

Obertauern has 100km of mainly blue and red runs making it ideal for intermediate skiers, along with 4km of black slopes including Gamsleiten 2, one of the steepest slopes in the Alps, as well as off-piste options.

Set 90km south of Salzburg, it is statistically Austria’s snowiest resort and receives large amounts of snow due to its geographical location where weather systems converge from the north and south of the Hohe Tauern mountains.

Data shows an average annual snow depth of 264cm for a ski area stretching from the village at 1740m above sea level up to 2313m.

The Tauern ski circuits around Obertauern in each direction are popular, with other interesting reds and blues accessible from the Panoramabahn, Zehnerkarbahn and Grunwaldkophbahn lifts (near where you’ll see a replica grand piano in the snow.)

Paint it blue

The linear layout of the resort, with 11 entry points into the ski area, is a particular appeal and effectively delivers ski-in-ski-out for many hotels throughout a season which runs from late November to May 1.

I stayed at the Sporthotel Snowwhite, instantly recognisable as it is painted vivid blue, with a restaurant and separate apres-ski bar, pool, spa, and comfortable rooms and easy access to the slopes.

But if it is true nostalgia you’re after, pop up a few doors to Places Hotel.

It was the Marietta in 1965 when the Help! film crew stayed there. It also became the only time where any of the Beatles actually played in Austria when Paul McCartney and John Lennon joined in an impromptu jam with Berlin-based band Jacky and the Strangers at a party held there.

The Edelweiss, where John, Paul, George and Ringo slept, now has a grand statue of the band outside.

Mountain cuisine

You’ll never go hungry in Obertauern with great food, including traditional and modern dishes, in the 50-plus mountain huts and village restaurants.

Try Gulaschuppe (€9) for a quick lunch, the local dish of Holzhackernocken (bacon, onion, noodles and mushrooms) at €17.50 at Gnadenalm, or a beef fillet or rack of ribs at mountain eateries such as Treff 2000 or the Kringsalm. The latter was opened by Gerhard Krings, who was George Harrison’s body double for the film.

Nearby is Das Seekarhaus which is packed with memorabilia and even has a Beatles Bar, while Restaurant Herzenslust is a favourite and serves an amazing venison ragout (€32.50).

Snow biking fun

Snow biking is a fun for a break from skiing and you can copy The Beatles who whizzed down the slopes on them.

With short skis on my boots and sitting astride the ‘bike’ which has a front and back ski, expert rider Hermann Koch explained the refinements of steering.

He’s no ordinary tutor and holds seven Guinness World Records for endurance, stunts such as the most 360 degree turns in a minute on a snow bike, longest descents and many more. He also has a top speed of 138kmh on a snow bike, which weighs a mere 6kg and is a significantly updated model to the ones used by The Beatles.

Hermann, 64, said: “Some people just want to snow bike on a day off from skiing and have fun on the mountain, while others want to play at being The Beatles!”

You can also enjoy a romantic a horse-drawn sleigh ride, snow shoeing, hiking, snow kiting, ice climbing, tobogganing, or cross-country skiing.

Fab four

The link between Obertauern and the Fab Four has endured over the years.

It was chosen for the snow scenes from Help! – which was also filmed in the Bahamas and on Salisbury Plain – as the producers thought few people would recognise The Beatles in the resort.

But the comic sequences truly put the Austrian resort on the celebrity map, as Lukas Eisl from Obertauern tourism explains: “So many people still come here and ask about The Beatles, even though it was nearly 60 years ago.”

The resort is making plans to mark the 60th anniversary next year, with hopes that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr can be persuaded to attend…and make Obertauern’s moment in pop history from a lifetime ago seem just like Yesterday.

FACTBOX

  • Accommodation: Mark Nicholls stayed at the Sporthotel Snowwhite
  • Snow biking: Two-hour starter lessons are €99, one day snow bike hire is €45, visit www.skikoch.at
  • Ski pass: six-day pass (€318), one day (€59).
  • Flights: Several airlines fly into Salzburg (90-minute transfer) and Munich (three hours).
  • For more information: www.obertauern.com or www.salzburgerland.com

Our Silver Travel Advisors have more information and can help you book your trip to Austria, call 0800 412 5678.

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